As a huge fan of Themebornes original “Creepy Castle Choose ‘em up” AKA Escape The Dark Castle, I was very excited to learn that the team were hard at work converting this brilliantly addictive experience into a new Sci-Fi format, and after months of anticipation I’ve finally been able to play Escape The Dark Sector.
Was it worth the wait?
Of course it was.
Escape the Dark Sector sees 1-4 players take the role of a spaceship crew that has inadvertently been trapped aboard a monstrous floating space station. Crewed by malfunctioning cyborgs, terrifying cosmic entities and all sorts of scum and villainy in between, it’s up to the team to escape by any means necessary. What this translates to is the team advancing through a randomised deck of scripted events, making tough choices, and battling enemies in combat where the enemies you face have health pools made out of dice and the specific character die you roll dictates what damage you do.
It’s a ludicrously simple concept and one that is a huge boon in a board game marketplace filled with manuals that rival Atlas Shrugged and playtimes of four hours minimum. When Escape The Dark Sector says you can learn the rules in ten minutes and that each play session lasts around forty, it’s true to its word.
This short runtime encourages multiple playthroughs, and thanks to some brilliantly expanded rules and deck organisation means that the replayability factor is through the roof. For example the gameplay is now split into three Acts, meaning that players draw cards from three different piles to make up their adventure deck, this in turn affects gameplay with the experience getting more challenging as players progress. This means no more huge difficulty spikes out of nowhere which could happen in Escape The Dark Castle and makes for an experience that feels fair.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t tough as nails though, as now in addition to close combat there’s now ranged combat, and players now can choose to either go in all guns blazing before pulling out the lead pipes, the benefit of which is that if they score any hits with their guns they can removed ANY health dice from an enemy (sometimes even more than one!). In addition to this when enemies shoot back, there’s a slight chance that they’ll miss! Trust me the cheers that go up when an enemy botches a shot are some of the best moments of the game.
For those looking to do even more damage, a new flanking option is available, and in exchange for possibly losing a bit of health, the player that is moving into position gets to attack with more power in the following round. It adds a beautiful layer of strategy into the game and can see even monstrous enemies felled in just a few rounds mitigating some of the slog factor that hampered Escape The Dark Castle’s combat.
Elsewhere the game feels like it’s tightened up wording and rules making it super simple to understand, and the manual guides players through example combat rounds in a way that is clear and easy to grasp. This is truly appreciated as I was able to complete games with players who have little to no interest in board games without any issue (made all the better when they said they’d play it again!)
It’s impossible for me not to recommend this game, its aesthetic continues to be brilliantly designed, its layout and objectives are crystal clear, and the tweaks to combat, deck building and item rewards all make for an experience that’s a blast from start to finish. Here’s hoping that the game receives the same sort of fantastic expansion support that Escape The Dark Castle has, although with Themebornes brilliant track record, it’s hard not to see this happening.